How Marketers Optimize Their Social Content

It may have taken some of them a while, but businesses have finally caught on to the importance of social media. According to Social Media Examiner’s 2014 Social Media Industry Report, 97 percent of businesses use social media for marketing purposes, and 92 percent feel that it’s important to their success.

But even as companies ramp up their social media efforts, they continue to struggle with how to best optimize social content to achieve desired business outcomes: 91 percent say they have difficulty deciding which specific tactics are most effective, according to the same report.

To better understand which strategies marketers are currently using to optimize social media content (and to gauge the effectiveness of these strategies), Software Advice has partnered with Adobe to create the first-ever Social Media Content Optimization Survey.

We also shared the 182 results we received from marketers with Liz Strauss, founder and CEO of SOBCon, who was ranked seventh on Forbes’ 2013 list of “Top 50 Social Media Power Influencers.” Her insights are included along with our analysis below.

Key Findings:

  1. Most marketers (84 percent) routinely post on at least three social media networks, with 70 percent posting at least once a day.
  2. Marketers most commonly cited the use of visual content, hashtags and usernames as important tactics for optimizing social media content.
  3. Over half (57 percent) use software tools to manage posting, and these respondents experienced less difficulty optimizing their social content.

Most Marketers Use Three or More Social Networks

Of the marketers who took our survey, the vast majority (84 percent) said they actively posted content on at least three or more social networks—most likely including Facebook, Twitter and/or LinkedIn.

Number of Active Social Media Outlets

A total of 61 percent posted on at least four networks; 20 percent posted on at least six; and, impressively, 3 percent posted on 11 networks or more.

This leaves 14 percent of marketers who were posting on only two channels, and just 2 percent who said they routinely posted content on just one social media outlet.

With so many marketers posting content across such a broad spectrum of social channels, businesses that are only active on three or fewer sites may be at a disadvantage, according to Strauss. In a world where more businesses actively post on 11 (or more) social sites than on just one, promoting content on Facebook and Twitter alone may not be enough.

However, Strauss says, a sizable (but unknown) number of users “are using social channels in a non-useful manner: posting randomly, without a goal, and without a true understanding of what can be accomplished on any particular social channel.”

In other words, there’s a big difference between posting frequently and posting strategically. A sound social media marketing strategy will not only involve publishing a lot of posts—it will involve publishing the right ones.

Most Marketers Post Frequently, Plan Content in Advance

Most marketers (70 percent) said they post content on social media outlets at least once a day, with 19 percent saying they post more than three times daily. Conversely, only 16 percent said they post fewer than once a day, and 14 percent had no set schedule for posting.

The fact that so many businesses are posting so frequently and consistently is even more impressive, considering that many post across a large number of sites in which content guidelines vary widely (for example, Twitter limiting posts to 140 characters, or YouTube requiring video content).

Number of Social Media Posts per Day

When we asked marketers how far in advance they schedule their social content, 41 percent said, “several days to one week,” making that by far the most popular timeframe for planning posts. A total of 65 percent said they schedule their social content at least one day in advance, with only 12 percent saying they had no consistent plan for scheduling posts ahead of time.

How Far in Advance Posts Are Scheduled

Taken as a whole, the data demonstrates that many marketers have an established plan for consistently generating and posting content. As a result, businesses that fail to post consistently will likely struggle to build brand recognition and engage audiences, when faced with competitors that have adopted more regimented social content delivery strategies.

Visual Content, Hashtags Are Most Important Tactics

Our respondents most commonly cited images and hashtags as crucial elements of social media content optimization: 82 percent said it was “important” or “very important” to use the former, while 67 percent said this about the latter. Even the tactics that were viewed as less imperative (such as using videos) were still considered at least “moderately important” by over 68 percent of respondents.

The fact that a significant majority of marketers viewed all seven of these tactics as important reflects that most believe optimizing their businesses’ social media content requires a multifaceted approach.

Most Important Tactics for Optimizing Content on Social Media

However, Strauss argues that our respondents’ priorities might need adjusting. For example, she says, their prioritization of images and hashtags over targeting specific audiences is completely backwards, and may reflect a more troubling lack of understanding about basic social media strategy.

Everyone knows images increase engagement, she says, “but how do you know which images are going to resonate with your audience if you don’t know who your audience is?”

Strauss also believes that marketers should more highly prioritize social calls-to-action (CTAs), saying, “If you don’t ask, ‘why don’t you visit my site,’ people probably won’t even bother to see if you have a site.”

But even then, she insists, these specific tactics only work “when you know exactly who you’re trying to reach and what you want them to do.” This means images and CTAs must be carefully selected to elicit a specific response from a specific sub-audience.

For example, when Oracle wanted to publicize an event at the South by Southwest Interactive conference with Chevrolet, it used the #sxswi hashtag to share a promotional image with attendees. It also included the @Chevrolet username to share with its partner’s audience, along with a CTA encouraging users to follow the event hashtag #IdeaRally and participate in the discussion.

And because this tweet was perfectly relevant to the attendees following the#sxswi hashtag, those users were positively inclined to respond to the CTA and to share the tweet with their own followers—who were also likely to find it interesting and actionable.

Most Test Sharing and CTRs to Optimize Times to Post

When we asked marketers about the tactics they used to determine the best times to post on social media, nearly all of them prioritized trial and error. Eighty-seven percent said it was at least “moderately important” to test the sharing rates and click-through rates (CTR) of content at different times of day and days of the week, in order to understand when potential audiences are most receptive.

On the whole, respondents valued testing for share rate and CTR almost equally, although slightly more said it was “very important” to optimize for the former (35 vs. 33 percent).

Many also felt it was “very important” (31 percent) or “important” (33 percent) to use social media optimization tools to help determine the best time to post. These would include social media monitoring and management tools such as Hootsuiteor Adobe Social.

Altogether, this data shows that the marketers in our sample feel it’s crucial to use testing strategies and social media monitoring to make data-driven decisions when it comes to optimizing the time to post their social content—and to base those decisions on multiple performance indicators, rather than focusing exclusively on any single metric.